Freedom of information request

Updated

1. Introduction

The Freedom of Information Act 2000 (“FOIA”) is an Act of Parliament that sets out a public “right to know” in relation to public bodies, including Non-Departmental Public Bodies (“NDPBs”). The FOIA also sets out certain exemptions to those rights.

The purpose of this Policy is to outline the approach of Oak National Academy (“Oak”) to its FOIA obligations to create a climate of openness and dialogue with its stakeholders and website users.

This Policy is applicable to all Oak staff (including all directors and all permanent, temporary and contract employees and workers employed or engaged by Oak or any 3rd party organisations while at work or engaged on Oak business) (“colleagues”) and any members of the public who request information under the FOIA.

2. Managing requests

As an NDPB, Oak is included in the definition of a public authority for the purposes of the FOIA and is therefore required to respond to requests for information.

Information is defined in the FOIA as meaning “information recorded in any form”. This is interpreted as including paper records, e-mails, information stored on computer, voicemail messages, handwritten notes or any other form of recorded information. Information, which is known to colleagues, however not recorded, is not covered by the FOIA.

All official information which is recorded is covered by the FOIA, irrespective of classification or format.

Oak’s Corporate Compliance Manager has responsibility for the processing and monitoring of any FOI requests.

The dedicated routes for FOI requests are:

  • by email to: [email protected]; or
  • by post to: Oak National Academy, PO Box 520, Newcastle upon Tyne, NE3 9GW.

Oak colleagues who receive written requests for information under the FOIA (including any requests which do not specifically mention the FOIA) must forward these immediately to the Corporate Compliance Manager using the email or address above. Where an oral request is made, the requester should be advised to put their request in writing.

The FOIA imposes strict time limits for dealing with a request for information. The Corporate Compliance Manager will issue a response within 20 working days from the date upon which the written request is received by Oak unless clarification of the request has been sought from the requester or an extension to the statutory timescales is sought by Oak under section 10(3) of the FOIA.

3. Other ways to seek information

The FOIA covers rights of access to and requests for non-personal data. Data protection legislation (including the UK General Data Protection Regulation) covers the rights individuals have in respect of their personal data, including rights of access. Personal information is exempt under section 40 of the FOIA and the processing of personal data will continue to be regulated by applicable data protection legislation. Any application for access to personal information of which the requester is the subject will be classed as a request under data protection legislation and treated accordingly. The requester will be advised to this effect.

The Environmental Information Regulations (“EIRs”) deal specifically with information relating to any decisions, activities and policy formulation that may have an impact on the environment. Environmental information is exempt information under section 39 of the FOIA. Requests for environmental information will be handled in an analogous manner to requests for information made under the FOIA. However, it should be noted that the EIRs do not specify that requests must be in writing. This means that telephone requests on environmental matters will also be valid (although in practice it is advisable to make a written record of any verbal requests received).

4. Fees

Where possible, Oak will not charge requesters a fee for complying with requests; however it reserves the right to do so. If Oak determines that a fee will be charged for complying with the request, a fee notice will be issued to the applicant in accordance with section 9 of the FOIA.

5. Provision of information

As well as the information we already provide on our website, Oak will seek to provide the requested information, subject to the application of any statutory exemption under the FOIA.

In responding to requests for information, Oak will have regard to any preferences expressed by the requester as to the form of communication. Where it is not reasonably practicable to comply with any preference expressed, Oak will notify the requester of the reasons for this determination.

6. Advice and assistance

Oak has a duty, so far as it is reasonable to do so, to give advice and assistance to anyone who has made a request or is considering making one.

7. Procedure for making a request

Requesters are required to put a request in writing – in the form of a letter or email, supplying their name and address and an address for correspondence and describing the specific information they are seeking. Requests need not refer to/quote FOI legislation (but it may be helpful to do so). Requesters can complete the form here; alternatively they can send their requests by email or post using the details in paragraph 4 above.

Oak may contact the requester to clarify the terms/scope of the request and to give advice and assistance as needed.

8. Exemptions

Where information is held by Oak, the information will not be withheld unless:

  • an exemption to disclosure under Part II of the FOIA applies;
  • it would cost too much to comply with the request;
  • the request is considered vexatious; and/ or
  • the request is repeated.

The exemptions to disclosure set out in the FOIA include non-disclosure in matters of a sensitive commercial nature or where disclosure would prejudice the effective conduct of public affairs.

Some of the FOIA exemptions are absolute exemptions, for example, if the information is personal data. If an absolute exemption applies, then Oak does not need to release the information. The remaining exemptions are qualified exemptions that require Oak to apply the public interest test in deciding whether to release the information. In considering the public interest, Oak will take into account:

  • whether the public interest in maintaining the exclusion of the duty to confirm or deny that information is held outweighs the public interest in disclosing whether Oak holds the information; and/or
  • whether the public interest in withholding information outweighs the public interest in releasing it.

Where the public interest test is relevant, Oak will apply it separately to each piece of potentially exempt information.

Where a document cannot be released in its entirety, Oak will endeavour to release what it is able to, in as intelligible a format as possible.

Where information is not held, Oak will seek to provide appropriate advice and assistance to the requester.

9. Consultation with Third Parties

Oak will consult with the Department for Education (its sponsor government department) prior to any disclosure of information which may affect that Department’s rights and responsibilities.

  • In addition, Oak may consult with a third party if:
    the views of that third party may assist Oak to determine whether an exemption under the FOIA applies to the information requested; and/or
  • where the views of the third party may assist Oak to determine where the public interest lies under section 2 of the FOIA.

10. Refusal of requests

Where Oak refuses a request, it will give the requester a notice setting out the reasons for the refusal.

When any written request is refused, Oak will notify the requester of the internal review process and their right under section 50 of the FOIA to apply to the Information Commissioner for a Decision Notice.

Oak reserves the right to refuse to respond to a request for information if it exceeds the value of £600 to process in terms of colleague time and disbursements. The £600 is calculated to be 24 hours of colleague time based on an hourly rate of £25 per hour, which is provided for by Regulation 4 of the Freedom of Information and Data Protection (Appropriate Limit and Fees) Regulations 2004.

11. Internal review process

If a requester is unhappy with:

  • the way in which his/her request has been handled;
  • is dissatisfied with the decision made regarding disclosure or non- disclosure of information,

they are able to request an internal review. All responses issued by Oak will provide the requester with details on how to request such an internal review.

The Department for Education (DfE) has overall responsibility for the internal review procedure. They are independent of the Corporate Compliance Manager. The DfE will be the internal reviewer unless they are unable to undertake the review due to circumstances such as, however not limited to, absence, illness or prior involvement. In the event that the DfE is unable to undertake the review, an alternative internal reviewer will be appointed, and the requester duly notified.

The internal reviewer will review the manner in which the request was dealt with and is empowered to either uphold or overturn the original decision.

Oak will only consider requests for an internal review which are made within 2 months of the date of the response to the requester.

The requester will be notified as to the outcome within a reasonable timescale. Oak aims to deal with internal reviews within 20 working days of receipt thereof. If it becomes clear at any stage of the internal review that Oak will not be able to meet this target, the requester will be notified.

12. The Information Commissioner

The Information Commissioner’s Office (“ICO”) is the UK’s independent authority set up to promote access to official information. If the requester remains dissatisfied with the decision made as a result of the internal review procedure, they can, under section 50 of the FOIA, complain to the Information Commissioner by writing to the ICO at Wycliffe House, Water Lane, Wilmslow, Cheshire SK9 5AF (www.ico.org.uk) to apply for a decision as to whether the request has been dealt with in accordance with the requirements of Part 1 of the FOIA.

A Decision Notice will be served if the Information Commissioner decides that Oak has failed to:

  • communicate information;
  • confirm or deny where required to do so by section 1(1) of the FOIA;
  • comply with requirements of section 11 of the FOIA (which refers to the manner of communication in response to a request for information); or
  • comply with any of the requirements of section 17 of the FOIA (which refers to the refusal of a request for information).

The Decision Notice will specify the steps, which must be taken by Oak to comply with the FOIA and the timescale for compliance.

The Information Commissioner can serve an Information Notice on Oak requiring the provision of specified information to him/her (unless legal professional privilege applies).

If the Information Commissioner is satisfied that Oak has failed to comply with any of the requirements under Part 1 of the FOIA, he/she may serve an Enforcement Notice on Oak, requiring Oak to take particular steps within a specified time to comply with those requirements.

All public authorities may appeal to the First–Tier Tribunal (Information Rights) against Decision Notices and Information and Enforcement Notices.

13. Reasonable adjustments and alternative formats

Oak is committed to equal opportunities and our aim is to make this Policy easy to use and accessible to all. We will take reasonable steps to accommodate any reasonable adjustments require to:

  • enable access to this Policy;
  • provide responses to requests in other formats; or
  • provide such assistance as may reasonably be required.

Should a copy of this Policy be required in an alternative format, such as Braille, audio CD or large print, please get in touch using the contact details set out in section 2 above.

14. Key contact information

If you have any questions relating to this policy, please contact Oak’s Corporate Compliance Manager.

  • Email: [email protected]
  • Address: Oak National Academy, PO Box 520, Newcastle upon Tyne, NE3 9GW
  • Phone: 020 7153 4480 ext 817

15. Review

This Policy is subject to review at least annually, or in response to any relevant changes.